Union Communications Vital

There was an old saying for military grunts (among many old sayings)- to wage war you must have three things: Command, Control, and Communications. These three components of war fighting are inextricably linked and are applicable to all levels of union operations; but, arguably more important for local union survival.  This post focuses on the role of communications in the provisioning of services at the local level of union operations in the federal sector.  This is the level of union operations that both recruits and retains members and builds loyalty.  It is the practical “rubber meets the road” analogy in that failure at this level demonstrates ineffectiveness of the entire labor organization.


Those who have done it understand the administration of a local federal labor union is a nightmare.  First off, most federal union officials at the local level, unlike private sector counterparts, are not compensated for their work and many, if not most, use their own personal time to conduct union business.  This is compounded by the simple fact that in the federal sector, employees cannot be compelled to join, support, or pay dues to the union, yet the union maintains an obligation to represent them.  Throw in the issues of divisive political ideology among federal employees, complicated personnel systems, the current political environment, inadequate equipment and services, frequent union turnover, and general lack of specialized support from parent organizations, and you have a system rigged against success.  This is in sharp contrast to private sector unions that rely upon a cadre of professionally compensated business agents, which typically provide day to day union administration, as well as the willingness of private sector unions to spend money on support services.

Current State

In a random search and sampling of over sixty local federal union websites conducted by The Informed Fed the weekend of March 1st, 2013, a vast majority were determined to simply be nonfunctional for various reasons to include: no updates within previous six months, inoperable navigation menus, non-functional links, JavaScript use that caused our Internet browser to crash, and mixed or no organizational branding.  Not one site was formatted for smartphones.  Of those functional sites, many were poorly designed. And finally, nearly all websites presented an unprofessional, almost childish (think MySpace), appearance.  However, these sixty-plus sites were ahead of the game in that most local federal unions do not even have a website.  One thing in common among all sites reviewed? There was no clear control of “the message.”  They simply failed to control communications.  The situation is exemplified by some quotes from union member message boards monitored by The Informed Fed in regard to existing union websites and the lack of current information,

“There has to be a way to get more info out, in a more timely fashion, to the members before the rumors start here and  there’s a dozen message threads about what everyone thinks and all the different conspiracies that go with it.”

“The problem with posting things to the [Union] website, then adding a little quip that some info “has been on the website for over a year,” is that the update frequency of that site (to put it bluntly) sucks ass.”

Additionally after a careful search on Twitter, The Informed Fed noted the vast majority of local unions do not appear to maintain active Twitter accounts.  Many that did, have no recent status updates. Of those, not all covered the furlough situation.

The Solution

The solution for local federal labor unions is amazingly simple, easily implemented, and extremely cost effective: simply leverage existing technologies as force multipliers.  To do this, local unions must break existing paradigms providing resistance to fee services; literally, expecting something for nothing.  This point is simply proven by the lack of compensation methods for Union Representatives.  These same Union Representatives who are tasked with complex and sensitive representational duties potentially affecting member livelihood.

Using well designed websites, tightly integrated with non-recurring fee services such as Google Voice, Twitter, Facebook, and scaled public relations services, local unions can create an effective communications system rivaling that of many well funded businesses and that of their own parent organizations.  Members can receive instant and reliable source updates via Twitter feeds from local unions while press releases could be disseminated online and/or via scaled PR solutions for immediate access to the public, members, and media.  Through the creation of a professional looking and well designed website tightly integrated with it’s custom Twitter feed, the local union would be able to effectively control it’s message.  Communications with union members could be further enhanced with the integration of web based automated calling systems, allowing the forwarding of phone calls to a “duty officer,” forwarding of both actual voicemail and transcripts, while providing a single unifying local phone number for the organization that never changes.

Unlike in the past, today’s technologies make such solutions cost effective.  What would cost you $10,000 in development fees in 2001 now costs less than $1,500.  What once would have required thousands of dollars in ongoing maintenance and development fee’s, now costs less than a hundred dollars in annual recurring fees.

Can your local union afford to not communicate with members?

Click here to learn how your union can do it all in 7 days.